The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Co-chair of Bush Iraq panel part of neocon network
By Jim Lobe,, February 7, 2004

President George W. Bush's choice to co-chair his commission to investigate intelligence failures prior to the Iraq War is a longtime, right wing political activist closely tied to the neo-conservative network that led the pro-war propaganda campaign.

Federal appeals court Judge Laurence Silberman, who will share the chairmanship with former Virginia Democratic Senator Charles Robb, also has some history in covert operations.

In 1980, when he served as part of former Republican president Ronald Reagan's senior campaign staff, he played a key role in setting up secret contacts between the Reagan-Bush campaign and the Islamic government in Tehran, in what became known as the "October Surprise" controversy. [complete article]

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Agency alert about Iraqi not heeded, officials say
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, February 7, 2004

An Iraqi military defector identified as unreliable by the Defense Intelligence Agency provided some of the information that went into United States intelligence estimates that Iraq had stockpiles of biological weapons at the time of the American invasion last March, senior government officials said Friday.

A classified "fabrication notification" about the defector, a former Iraqi major, was issued by the D.I.A. to other American intelligence agencies in May 2002, but it was then repeatedly overlooked, three senior intelligence officials said. Intelligence agencies use such notifications to alert other agencies to information they consider unreliable because its source is suspected of making up or embellishing information.

Because the warning went unheeded, the officials said, the defector's claims that Iraq had built mobile research laboratories to produce biological weapons were mistakenly included in, among other findings, the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which concluded that Iraq most likely had significant biological stockpiles. [complete article]

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Bush, aides ignored CIA caveats on Iraq
By Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, Washington Post, February 7, 2004

In its fall 2002 campaign to win congressional support for a war against Iraq, President Bush and his top advisers ignored many of the caveats and qualifiers included in the classified report on Saddam Hussein's weapons that CIA Director George J. Tenet defended Thursday.

In fact, they made some of their most unequivocal assertions about unconventional weapons before the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was completed. [complete article]

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Secret obsessions at the top
By Nicholas D. Kristoff, New York Times, February 7, 2004

To unravel our intelligence failures in Iraq, it helps to look back at what was once one of the most secret and scary chapters in U.S.-Soviet relations. An intelligence failure risked nuclear war in the 1980's -- but this was a mistake by the K.G.B.

In 1981, we now know, the K.G.B. chairman said at a secret conference that President Ronald Reagan was planning to launch a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The Soviets became consumed with the U.S. threat, just as the Bush administration became obsessed with the Iraq threat. The K.G.B. ordered all its offices in NATO countries to seek evidence of Mr. Reagan's plans for a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and they code-named the effort RYAN.

Once K.G.B. officers knew what Moscow wanted, they found "evidence" everywhere of Mr. Reagan's secret plans for a nuclear strike -- confirming Moscow's worst fears. [complete article]

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Administration's message on Iraq now strikes discordant notes
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 7, 2004

It will be more than a year before the country hears the conclusions of the commission that President Bush reluctantly appointed on Friday to examine what has gone wrong with American intelligence collection.

But in recent days, it has been obvious in Washington that something has also gone awry in a White House that prides itself on never wavering from its message, especially when the subject is Iraq. At moments, Mr. Bush and his national security team -- badgered for explanations about whether the country would have gone to war if it knew then what it knows now -- have sounded as if these days, it is every warrior for himself.

Rather than uniform and disciplined, their answers have been ad hoc and inconsistent. And the result is that the president appears very much on the defensive just at a moment when his aides thought he would be reaping the political benefits of ridding the world of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

Comment -- The ironic thing about loyalty is that it often works hand in hand with disloyalty. Those who expect unswerving loyalty in so doing, force their obedient servants to silence their own doubts. But once a retreat gathers momentum, as each individual becomes increasingly aware of their own vulnerability, doubts and misgivings quickly re-emerge. The protective power of loyalty ebbs away as everyone starts weighing up their own risk of being cast overboard or just as bad, staying aboard a sinking ship.

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What went wrong with Iraq intelligence?
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, February 6, 2004

The Bush administration's case that Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs before the U.S. invasion weakened further this week, with new revelations from CIA Director George Tenet about problems with U.S. intelligence.

Increasingly, the question from here on out will be: What went wrong and who's to blame?

That's the focus of the new independent commission that President Bush named Friday. It's also the subject of a round of finger-pointing that pits the CIA against the White House, intelligence professionals against their political masters and Republicans against Democrats.

It's a question that Bush will face when he makes an unusual solo appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." [complete article]

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'An End to Evil': Showing them who's boss
By Fareed Zakaria, New York Times, February 7, 2004

Before Sept. 11, 2001, it would have been difficult to speak meaningfully about a ''neoconservative foreign policy.'' While there was a group of intellectuals and policy experts who were identified -- sometimes self-identified -- by the neoconservative label, they did not agree on foreign policy. Today a cardinal feature of neoconservative foreign policy is the aggressive use of American power to dislodge dictators and promote democracy. But the founding father of the movement, Irving Kristol, shunned this approach, speaking in the more cautious tones of realpolitik. Throughout the 1990's, Charles Krauthammer, a leading neoconservative commentator, was deeply suspicious of the use of American power against dictators in the Balkans, Africa and the Caribbean, while others, like Richard Perle and William Kristol, were far more sympathetic. Neoconservative foreign policy during that decade lacked a central theme.

Sept. 11 changed all that. It is now possible to describe a neoconservative foreign policy, and David Frum and Richard Perle's new book, ''An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror,'' is a useful guide to it. There have been many books written by neoconservatives on aspects of the war on terror, but because of the identity of the authors, the scope of the book and the vigor of argumentation, this one deserves special attention. [complete article]

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Blair's plea of ignorance no smart move
By Fraser Nelson, The Scotsman, February 7, 2004

Tony Blair is a master of detail. He has made his career from having minute facts at his disposal, then using them with surgical precision. This is why it is so hard to believe that he sent Britain into war without being fully briefed on Iraq's weapons.

The Prime Minister has only himself to blame for the incredulity sweeping Westminster. He regularly astonishes his allies and enemies with his stamina - and ability to stand three hours being grilled by MPs without one single error.

And this, we are now asked to believe, is the same Mr Blair who neither asked nor was told that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction could not fit on missiles.

The chemical and biological weapons which could be deployed within 45 minutes - a central claim to his Iraq dossier - were only fit to be fired across a battlefield. MI6 knew this; Geoff Hoon knew this but Britain's Prime Minister was kept in the dark.

Convinced? [complete article]

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Blair knew better than to go to war on the word of a spy
By Max Hastings, The Guardian, February 7, 2004

It begins to seem possible, if not yet probable, that Tony Blair's premiership will be ended by fallout from the Iraq war: in particular, by his folly in accepting false intelligence about the threat from Saddam Hussein, and his misrepresentation of this (albeit in good faith, as Lord Hutton assures us) to the British public.

How strange it seems, that a prime minister who possesses such a low opinion of the credibility of our media should have been so readily deluded by our intelligence services. For the processes by which journalists and intelligence officers gather information are not dissimilar, and the fruits of their labours suffer the same imperfections.

Both offer consumers a jigsaw with many of its pieces missing. We are alike dependent upon unreliable, and frequently uncheckable, sources. Both have a duty of care to our readers, to remind them of the limitations of our knowledge. Both are prone to fail in fulfilling this. [complete article]

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Reported murder plot cements cleric's stature
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2004

The dark, intense eyes of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani stare soberly at Iraqis from mosque posters, car stickers, bookshop windows and framed photographs in offices and homes in this holy city -- and, increasingly, the vast swath of predominantly Shiite Iraq.

The omnipresent 75-year-old cleric, who has professed to be without political aspirations, is now arguably the most powerful man in the country. Any doubts about that were dispelled by the reaction to the reported attempt on his life here Thursday. The Arab world gasped collectively as word of the purported attempt was reported on satellite television channels throughout the region. A day later, it remained unclear what had happened, and Sistani's office steadfastly denied any violent incident.

But the reaction suggests Sistani's importance -- as well as the fragility of the political situation. [complete article]

See also U.S. calls report of bid to kill Sistani false

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Assassinations tear into Iraq's educated class
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, February 7, 2004

Abdul al-Latif al-Mayah was never safe. Not before the war started, and not after.

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Mayah, a 53-year-old political scientist and human rights advocate known in his neighborhood here as "the professor," was driving to work when eight masked gunmen jumped in front of his car. They yanked him into the street, the police said, and shot him nine times in front of his bodyguard and another university lecturer.

In an instant, he became one of hundreds of intellectuals and midlevel administrators who Iraqi officials say have been assassinated since May in a widening campaign against Iraq's professional class. [complete article]

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Israeli PM may move Gaza settlers to West Bank
Associated Press (via MSNBC), February 7, 2004

Under an emerging plan to dismantle settlements, Israel is considering moving Gaza Strip settlers to West Bank areas that Israel wants to annex under a final peace deal, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman said Friday.

Sharon -- who announced earlier in the week plans to dismantle 17 Gaza Strip settlements and some West Bank communities in the next two years -- is looking at several options and will present them to U.S. officials, spokesman Assaf Shariv said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia welcomed the idea of dismantling settlements but said it’s unacceptable to move Gaza settlers to the West Bank. He said all West Bank settlements must be taken down as well. [complete article]

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German FM calls for joint Mideast initiative by U.S., Europe
Haaretz, February 7, 2004

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called Saturday for Europe and the United States to join together in a broad effort to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.

A major push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fight terrorism and promote economic development in the Arab world would contribute toward overcoming U.S.-European rifts over the Iraq war, Fischer told an annual defense conference of major experts and officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and attended, among others, by officials from Israel, Jordan, Iran and the Palestinian Authority. [complete article]

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Iran's reformists 'will face prosecution' for resigning
Agence France Presse (via Daily Times), February 7, 2004

Iran's hardline Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi has warned that officials who resign with the aim of impeding parliamentary elections in protest at the barring of reformist candidates face prosecution, state news agency IRNA reported.

"If any of the government bodies impedes the Majlis elections process in violation of legal and religious boundaries, then it would be considered a criminal act and would be prosecuted," Shahrudi was quoted as saying late Thursday. It was the latest warning to pro-reformist officials, including dozens of members of parliament, from hardliners following the disqualification by a conservative vetting body of hundreds of mainly reformist candidates for the February 20 elections. [complete article]

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Iran president yields over poll
BBC News, February 7, 2004

Iran's president has agreed February's general election can go ahead - despite pressing for a delay in a row over the barring of 2,000 reformist candidates.

Mohammad Khatami's decision comes days after Iran's supreme leader ruled the poll should take place as planned.

However, Mr Khatami warned public enthusiasm for voting would wane after such a large number of candidates were blacklisted by conservative vetters.

They include virtually all the best-known figures in the reform movement. [complete article]

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Question Bush

President Bush appears on NBC's Meet the Press this Sunday. To suggest a question that Tim Russert should ask Bush, send an email to Here's a suggestion:

Mr President, your spokesman, Scott McClellan, this week said that prior to the war in Iraq you did not describe Saddam as presenting an imminent threat to the United States but that he presented a "grave and gathering" threat. On September 12, 2002, while addressing the United Nations you said, "Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger." On September 19, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee that, "no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people than the regime of Saddam Hussein." Was Secretary Rumsfeld exagerating or is there in fact no substantive difference between an "imminent threat", a "grave and gathering danger", and an "immediate threat to the security of our people"?

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Get your Bush docs here!
By Timothy Noah, Slate, February 6, 2004

The various revelations in Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty are based largely on a trove of 19,000 documents that former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill gave him. Some have criticized Suskind for striking a Faustian bargain in which he accepted at face value O'Neill's often comically outsized self-regard in exchange for the information O'Neill was in a position to provide about the inner workings of the Bush White House (which might be summed up by the formula, "Crude Political Calculation + Discipline = Success"). But whatever his personal failings and shortcomings as Treasury secretary (some of them previously documented in Chatterbox's "O'Neill Death Watch"), O'Neill is a smart and principled man whose blunt storytelling, supplemented by Suskind's independent reporting, provides what is by far the most vivid and valuable accounting of this administration. And unlike the typical White House memoirist, O'Neill made sure the public would have the documents to back up his description of what he saw. [complete article]

Delve into The Bush Files here.

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Democrats eyeing a novel target: V.P.
By Wayne Washington, Boston Globe, February 6, 2004

Democrats running for the presidential nomination have consistently trained their sights on President Bush, but the candidates and party leaders have spotted another target they believe shows that the administration's policies are conceived in secrecy and skewed to the rich: Vice President Dick Cheney.

The low-key, tough-talking vice president is portrayed by Democrats as a sinister operator behind the curtain of the Bush administration, secretly meeting with oil executives to formulate energy policy and intimidating intelligence officials into bolstering the case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Cheney's past ties to Halliburton, in particular, provide fodder for attack ads that are being considered for the fall campaign, say Democrats.

In two ways, those criticisms of Cheney represent novel political attacks on a vice president, political analysts say. Previous knocks on vice presidents suggested they were unfit to serve as president if something happened to the chief executive, but the criticism of Cheney instead hints that he is the real force behind the administration and a symbol of everything about it that is seen as wrong. [complete article]

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No conspiracy on Iraq info: McCain
Agence France Presse (via The Australian), February 6, 2004

US Senator John McCain, who will be part of the independent commission on Iraq, today said the probe would encompass how pre-war intelligence was used by US leaders as well as the failures of the intelligence community.

McCain said it was "vital" that the public and media had confidence in the outcome of the investigation.

Asked whether the probe would look at the use of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, McCain said: "We will be looking at the entire situation, including that of course.

"I think all aspects are important, from the way the intelligence is gathered to the way it is presented to the American people." [...]

"The president of the United States I believe would not manipulate any kind of information for political gain or otherwise," said the senator, who challenged Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000. [complete article]

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The pragmatists' primary
Desperately seeking electability

By Michael Kinsley, Slate, February 5, 2004

Democrats are cute when they're being pragmatic. They furrow their brows and try to think like Republicans. Or as they imagine Republicans must think. They turn off their hearts and listen for signals from their brains. No swooning is allowed this presidential primary season. "I only care about one thing," they all say. "Which of these guys can beat Bush?" Secretly, they believe none of them can, which makes the amateur pragmatism especially poignant.

Nevertheless, Democrats persevere. They ricochet from candidate to candidate, hoping to smell a winner. In effect, they give their proxy to the other party. "If I was a Republican," they ask themselves, "which of these Democratic candidates would I be most likely to vote for?" And by the time this is all over, most of the serious contenders will have been crowned the practical choice for at least a moment. First it was Lieberman the Centrist. "I'm actually for Dennis Kucinich," a Democrat might say, "because I like his position on nationalizing all the churches. But I'm supporting Joe Lieberman. His views on nearly everything are repellent to me, and I think that's a good sign." [complete article]

Comment -- The problem with a lot of political commentary when it assumes the role of public mind-reading is over-analysis. Michael Kinsley's analysis is no exception. While the watchword of Democrats is "beat Bush", for commentators it has become "electability." A fixation on electability is supposed to have turned every Democratic voter into a political analyst with dubious skills.

I'm inclined to think that what's going on is far less complicated. Democrats have a hard enough time figuring out what other Democrats think, let alone read the minds of nominally Republican swing voters. So what's involved in the process of divination we're now applying as we pull the levers of democracy? Rather than guessing what's going to happen on Super Tuesday or November 2, we're asking simple questions like, can I imagine this man as president? How much would I trust him? In a debate between him and Bush, who do I think would exude more authority? Does he have credibility? Would this man make a good president?

George Bush's challenge, as a man who doesn't do nuances, is going to be to convince voters that there truly is a difference between being president and having presidential capabilities.

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Bush names panel to study Iraq intel woes
By Ken Guggenheim, Associated Press, February 6, 2004

President Bush named seven people Friday to sit on an independent study commission to look into intelligence failures on Iraqi weapons, choosing former Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb and retired judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican, to head the panel.

"We must stay ahead of constantly changing intelligence challenges," Bush said. "The stakes for our country cannot be higher."

Robb was a former U.S. senator and governor of Virginia and son-in-law of the late President Johnson. He is married to Lynda Baines Johnson and has been practicing law since leaving the Senate. Silberman is a conservative who served as deputy attorney general in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He was named to the appeals court by President Reagan in 1985. [complete article]

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Get me rewrite!
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, February 6, 2004

Right now America is going through an Orwellian moment. On both the foreign policy and the fiscal fronts, the Bush administration is trying to rewrite history, to explain away its current embarrassments.

Let's start with the case of the missing W.M.D. Do you remember when the C.I.A. was reviled by hawks because its analysts were reluctant to present a sufficiently alarming picture of the Iraqi threat? Your memories are no longer operative. On or about last Saturday, history was revised: see, it's the C.I.A.'s fault that the threat was overstated. Given its warnings, the administration had no choice but to invade.

A tip from Joshua Marshall, of, led me to a stark reminder of how different the story line used to be. Last year Laurie Mylroie published a book titled "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the C.I.A. and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror." Ms. Mylroie's book came with an encomium from Richard Perle; she's known to be close to Paul Wolfowitz and to Dick Cheney's chief of staff. According to the jacket copy, "Mylroie describes how the C.I.A. and the State Department have systematically discredited critical intelligence about Saddam's regime, including indisputable evidence of its possession of weapons of mass destruction." [complete article]

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After Sept. 11, it's veterans day
By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, February 6, 2004

With John Kerry as their presumptive candidate, the Democrats may have won the war issue.

True, President Bush will make the case that his post-Sept. 11 policies are infinitely tougher. And Kerry certainly has given him an opening, saying that the war on terrorism is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation."

This is a hopelessly retrograde invocation of the anti-terrorism policies that brought us Sept. 11 -- finding, arresting and putting on trial individual miscreants, as we did the World Trade Center bombers of 1993 -- but it does not matter. War is more a visceral than an intellectual issue. Kerry holds the trump card. He's fought in battle. And acted heroically. [complete article]

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The day Cheney was rocked to the core
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times, February 7, 2004

If United States Vice President Dick Cheney was hoping that the cold, crisp air of Davos and his private audience with Pope John Paul II late last month would revive his spirits, as well as his standing in the polls, he must be deeply disappointed.

Since returning home, he has faced a seemingly unrelenting succession of disclosures and attacks that appear to get worse with each passing day. What the albatross was to the ancient mariner, Cheney is fast becoming to George W Bush's re-election chances. [complete article]

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Progress by U.S. forces undermined by frequent attacks on Iraqis
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, February 5, 2004

While American officials promise a future with freedom of religion, speech and assembly in Iraq, many residents, especially in Baghdad, say they are far more concerned with making it home alive. Iraqi shopkeepers, taxi drivers, lawyers and street peddlers share a similar view: Saddam Hussein may be gone, but the chaos and violence of postwar Iraq are terrible substitutes. And they blame American bungling. [complete article]

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Doubt grows over preventive war
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 2004

As questions mount around the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the intelligence that was used to justify going to war, one of the first casualties may be the Bush administration's doctrine of preventive war.

That is just one way the controversy over the use of intelligence to justify war is likely to impact US foreign policy. Already the wisdom of waging war against a gathering but unexercised threat is being questioned in Congress and among weapons experts.

But the failure to find weapons and the clouds over prewar intelligence are also feeding US allies' doubts on the rationale for war, and solidifying opposition to the administration's stated right to preemptive war. [complete article]

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Key source on Iraqi bioweapons was deemed dubious, agencies say
By Jonathan S. Landay, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 6, 2004

Dubious intelligence about Iraq's biological weapons programs found its way into the Bush administration's case for a preemptive invasion of Iraq despite the fact that officials warned in May 2002 that some of the information might be unreliable or fabricated.

The charge that Iraq had mobile biological-warfare research laboratories came solely from a defector provided to U.S. intelligence officials by Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, said senior U.S. officials, revealing the oversight for the first time yesterday. The officials, some of whom are critics of Chalabi, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the intelligence remains classified.

Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, is a favorite of pro-war civilian Pentagon officials but is deeply distrusted by many rank-and-file professionals in the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and State Department, who worried that some of the defectors he produced might be Iraqi double agents. [complete article]

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Tenet defends CIA's analysis of Iraq as objective, if flawed
By Dana Priest and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 6, 2004

CIA Director George J. Tenet argued forcefully yesterday that, months before the war in Iraq, intelligence agencies gave policymakers objective, apolitical judgments on Iraqi weapons, including caveats and details of where analysts disagreed in their assessments. [complete article]

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Making money on terrorism
By William D. Hartung, The Nation, February 23, 2004

We all know that Halliburton is raking in billions from the Bush Administration's occupation and rebuilding of Iraq. But in the long run, the biggest beneficiaries of the Administration's "war on terror" may be the "destroyers," not the rebuilders. The nation's "Big Three" weapons makers--Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman--are cashing in on the Bush policies of regime change abroad and surveillance at home. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was on target when he suggested that rather than "leave no child behind," the slogan Bush stole from the Children's Defense Fund, his Administration's true motto appears to be "leave no defense contractor behind."

In fiscal year 2002, the Big Three received a total of more than $42 billion in Pentagon contracts, of which Lockheed Martin got $17 billion, Boeing $16.6 billion and Northrop Grumman $8.7 billion. This is an increase of nearly one-third from 2000, Clinton's final year. These firms get one out of every four dollars the Pentagon doles out for everything from rifles to rockets. In contrast, Bush's No Child Left Behind Act is underfunded by $8 billion a year, with the additional assistance promised to school districts swallowed up by war costs and tax cuts. [complete article]

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A tragedy of errors
By Michael Lind, The Nation, February 23, 2004

It is true, and unfortunate, that some journalists tend to use "neoconservative" to refer only to Jewish neoconservatives, a practice that forces them to invent categories like "nationalist conservative" or "Western conservative" for Rumsfeld and Cheney. But neoconservatism is an ideology, like paleoconservatism and libertarianism, and Rumsfeld and Dick and Lynne Cheney are full-fledged neocons, as distinct from paleocons or libertarians, even though they are not Jewish and were never liberals or leftists. What is more, Jewish neocons do not speak for the majority of American Jews. According to the 2003 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion by the American Jewish Committee, 54 percent of American Jews surveyed disapproved of the war on Iraq, compared with only 43 percent who approved, and American Jews disapproved of the way Bush is handling the campaign against terrorism by a margin of 54-41.

Neoconservatism--the term was Michael Harrington's--originated in the 1970s as a movement of anti-Soviet liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey and Henry ("Scoop") Jackson, many of whom preferred to call themselves "paleoliberals." While there was a pro-Israel wing, the movement's focus was on confrontation with the Soviet bloc abroad and on the defense of New Deal liberalism and color-blind liberal integrationism against rivals on the left at home. With the end of the cold war and the ascendancy of the Democratic Leadership Council, many "paleoliberals" drifted back to the Democratic center. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once spoken of as a possible neoconservative presidential candidate, broke with the movement in the 1980s over its growing contempt for international law and its exaggeration of the Soviet threat. Today's neocons are a shrunken remnant of the original broad neocon coalition. [complete article]

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Hell walking on earth
By Mustafa Barghouti, Al-Ahram, February 5, 2004

The disastrous cycle of violence gripping Israel and Palestine receives plentiful news coverage. Largely unreported however, are the more insidious aspects of the conflict. Israel has committed a litany of atrocities during its occupation of Palestine, but the crimes visited daily upon the innocent civilians of Rafah are among the most heinous. Even in the wider context of the occupation as a whole, Rafah's situation is particularly tragic, and the conditions imposed on its citizens increasingly desperate. There can be no doubt that Israeli policy in Rafah amounts to a process of ethnic cleansing, and, as has been so often the case throughout history, a humanitarian catastrophe is being allowed to continue unimpeded. The world sits idly by. [complete article]

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Deal collapses to reinstate banned candidates in Iran
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, February 5, 2004

Leaders of Iran's reformist Parliament conceded defeat to the country's ruling clerics Thursday and predicted that this month's elections would go forward with a sweeping ban on liberal candidates in place.

The ban clears the way for conservative clerics to retake the Parliament and end legislative efforts to secularize the Islamic republic.

The reformers' admission of defeat came on the final day of a sit-in by incumbents to protest the mass blacklisting of candidates for the elections Feb. 20. [complete article]

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Kay queries White House war talk
BBC News, February 6, 2004

Speaking in Washington on Thursday, Mr Kay said the apparent contradiction [between the CIA and the White House's assessment of the prewar Iraqi threat] "raised the possibility that the intelligence community had been telling the White House one thing and the White House had been hearing something else."

He said the issue of whether politicians manipulated data to make the case for war "is an important question that needs to be understood". [complete article]

Comment -- Comments by George Tenet and Donald Rumsfeld suggesting that WMD may yet be found in Iraq reveal a strategic split inside the administration on how to deal with the Kay threat. On the one hand, the administration is acceding to political pressure by agreeing to form commission of inquiry. On the other hand, they seem to be holding out the possibility that the intelligence was not fundamentally flawed. If they really believe that WMD might still be found, how can they feel that there is any need to look into an intelligence "failing"? The problem is Kay and each time he opens his mouth the problem gets bigger. The administration gave Kay the authority to determine whether Iraq had any WMD stockpiles and he's concluded there aren't any. They can't impugn his credibility by responding, "sorry David -- you obviously didn't look hard enough. Go back and finish the job." So instead the line becomes, investigate, investigate, investigate. We might not agree about what "this" is, but you can sure we'll get to the bottom of it.

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Scandal of Pakistani nuclear secrets for sale was 'tip of iceberg'
By Anne Penketh and Jan McGirk, The Independent, February 6, 2004

President Pervez Musharraf pardoned yesterday the "father of the Islamic bomb" for selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea in one of the greatest proliferation scandals in history.

The President was attempting to bring to a close the snowballing affair which has confirmed the world's worst fear: that Pakistan is the hub of a massive black market network of nuclear proliferation that is still unravelling.

"Dr Khan is the tip of an iceberg," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A spokeswoman for the United Nations agency, Melissa Fleming, said: "We think this is the most serious case of nuclear proliferation in recent times." [complete article]

Comment -- If the UN-sceptics in the Bush administration haven't already figured this out, there can be no more compelling evidence than the story of Pakistan's proliferation activities to demonstrate that an effective US non-proliferation policy depends heavily on UN institutions such as the IAEA.. Over the last three years, who's been working harder and with more effect to make the world a safer place? George Bush or Mohamed ElBaradei? (That is of course a rhetorical question.)

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Pakistan's nuclear aces win the day
Asia Times/Inter Press Service, February 6, 2004

A deal has obviously now been cut, so there is no surprise at the cabinet's decision: now [the founder of Pakistan's nuclear-weapons program, Dr Abdul Qadeer] Khan will be pardoned, a few lesser scientists will be tried, if at all, and the Pakistan military's role in nuclear proliferation over the years will remain a secret. This outcome will appease many in Pakistan who resent the "humiliation" of a national hero. Many Pakistanis believe that Khan saved Pakistan from India by making the atomic bomb.

A pardon for Khan also tallies well with US expectations. Washington certainly knows that the Pakistani government is implicated in the clandestine commerce, but Musharraf is a far too valuable an ally at the moment to be compromised. The United States needs him to curb the Taliban, to catch Osama bin Laden and the remnants of al-Qaeda who are hiding out in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, and as a potential leader of a moderate Islamic state at a strategic location. As is so often the case, Washington appears to be driven more by its short-term tactical needs than the truth. [complete article]

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Top Iraqi cleric said to survive attempt on life
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, February 6, 2004

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential religious leader, survived an assassination attempt Thursday in the sacred Shiite Muslim city of Najaf, an aide said.

The incident was shrouded in conflicting reports and denials, reflecting the intense interest that Iraqis and foreigners have in Sistani, a pivotal figure in the country's transition from U.S. occupation to Iraqi rule. The reclusive cleric serves as the supreme religious authority for Iraq's Shiites, who account for a majority of the country's 25 million people, and has emerged as a pivotal figure in its politics. [complete article]

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Cheney's staff focus of probe
By Richard Sale, UPI (via Insight), February 5, 2004

Federal law-enforcement officials said that they have developed hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney's office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer's identity last year. The investigation, which is continuing, could lead to indictments, a Justice Department official said.

According to these sources, John Hannah and Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were the two Cheney employees. "We believe that Hannah was the major player in this," one federal law-enforcement officer said. Calls to the vice president's office were not returned, nor did Hannah and Libby return calls.

The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah "that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time" as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law-enforcement official said. [complete article]

Comment -- As Josh Marshall says, "This is, to put it mildly, awfully big news if it bears out." So far, the Washington Post et al seem to be very coy about picking this up.

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Iraqi cleric 'was not attacked'
BBC News, February 5, 2004

Supporters of the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shia Muslims, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have denied reports that he has been the target of an attack.

One of his aides dismissed the reports as untrue.

One report had said gunmen opened fire as he greeted people in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday morning. [complete article]

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The Bush administration's prewar definition of the Iraqi threat
Associated Press, February 5, 2004

... a mortal threat ... Vice President Dick Cheney, August 29, 2002

... a grave and gathering danger ... President Bush, September 12, 2002

... the immediate threat ... Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, September 18, 2002

... no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people ... Rumsfeld, September 19, 2002

... a threat of unique urgency ... Bush, October 2, 2002

... a threat to the security of free nations. Bush, March 16, 2003

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A White House strength shows signs of change
By Ron Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 5, 2004

President Bush's performance as commander in chief was supposed to be his strong suit in the November election, but questions about his leadership suddenly have forced him on the defensive.

With the week only half over, Bush had reversed course on the need for an investigation into prewar intelligence in Iraq, reluctantly agreed to extend an investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and fended off questions about his military service.

In a sign of potential political damage, a new Gallup poll shows that voters trust Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts - the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination - more than Bush to decide when U.S. troops should go to war. And, for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, fewer than half of Americans - 49 percent - say the war was worth it. [complete article]

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Scalia was Cheney hunt trip guest; ethics concern grows
By David G. Savage and Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2004

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia traveled as an official guest of Vice President Dick Cheney on a small government jet that served as Air Force Two when the pair came here last month to hunt ducks.

The revelation cast further doubts about whether Scalia can be an impartial judge in Cheney's upcoming case before the Supreme Court, legal ethics experts said. The hunting trip took place just weeks after the high court agreed to take up Cheney's bid to keep secret the details of his energy policy task force.

According to those who met them at the small airstrip here, the justice and the vice president flew from Washington on Jan. 5 and were accompanied by a second, backup Air Force jet that carried staff and security aides to the vice president.

Two military Black Hawk helicopters were brought in and hovered nearby as Cheney and Scalia were whisked away in a heavily guarded motorcade to a secluded, private hunting camp owned by an oil industry businessman. [complete article]

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Tenet says CIA never painted Iraq as imminent threat
By David Stout, New York Times, February 5, 2004

The head of the Central Intelligence Agency delivered a passionate and wide-ranging defense of the C.I.A. today, asserting that its analysts never claimed that Iraq posed an "imminent threat" and insisting that they never tailored their findings for anyone. [...]

And in perhaps the most sensitive section of his remarks -- on whether Mr. Hussein had chemical, biological or nuclear weapons -- the director alluded to the intelligence community's summary that was drawn up in the fall of 2002.

"We concluded that in some of these categories Iraq had weapons, and that in others where it did not have them, it was trying to develop them," Mr. Tenet said in a 40-minute speech at Georgetown University, his alma mater.

"Let me be clear," he went on. "Analysts differed on several important aspects of these programs, and those debates were spelled out in the estimate. They never said there was an imminent threat. Rather, they painted an objective assessment for our policymakers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests. No one told us what to say or how to say it." [complete article]

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The intel inquiry misses the point:
The decision to invade Iraq was made in the White House, not in Langley

By Tony Karon, Time, February 4, 2004

It's hardly surprising that Colin Powell's breaking ranks on Iraq has sent the White House into a panic. While the Bush administration continues to insist that the invasion was justified and necessary despite the news that weapons of mass destruction on which the case for war was built simply didn't exist, Powell admitted to the Washington Post that if he'd known the truth about Iraq's WMD capability, he might not have advocated an invasion. Asked directly if he would have advocated invading in the absence of a stockpile of WMD, the Secretary of State answered: "It was the stockpile that presented the final little piece that made it more of a real and present danger and threat to the region and to the world? (The) absence of a stockpile changes the political calculus; it changes the answer you get."

Those comments must have sent some in the White House apoplectic, because Powell quickly rushed to assure reporters that he nonetheless believed "the president made the right decision." The question of how Colin Powell resolves his internal conflicts over being part of an administration with which he is at odds on so many foreign policy questions must be left to his biographers. But by letting slip his obvious doubt that the war was necessary given the absence of a "real and present danger" from Iraq, the Secretary of State has teed up the administration for a devastating critique. [complete article]

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There was no failure of intelligence
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, February 5, 2004

Before he departed on his quest for Saddam Hussein's fabled weapons of mass destruction last June, David Kay, chief of the Iraq Survey Group, told friends that he expected promptly to locate the cause of the pre-emptive war. On January 28, Kay appeared before the Senate to testify that there were no WMDs. "It turns out that we were all wrong," he said. President Bush, he added helpfully, was misinformed by the whole intelligence community which, like Kay, made assumptions that turned out to be false.

Within days, Bush declared that he would, after all, appoint a commission to investigate; significantly, it would report its findings only after the presidential election.

Kay's testimony was the catalyst for this u-turn, but only one of his claims is correct: that he was wrong. The truth is that much of the intelligence community did not fail, but presented correct assessments and warnings, that were overridden and suppressed. On virtually every single important claim made by the Bush administration in its case for war, there was serious dissension. Discordant views - not from individual analysts but from several intelligence agencies as a whole - were kept from the public as momentum was built for a congressional vote on the war resolution. [complete article]

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As probes mount, Bush has allies
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, February 5, 2004

President Bush faces a daunting accretion of investigations - topped by his creation this week of an independent commission on WMD intelligence - but he has a resource many of his embattled predecessors did not possess: a Congress controlled by his own party.

The inquiries pose real risks to the president, especially with election-year attacks from Democrats mounting. Ongoing inquiries now cover the nation's vulnerability to the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, the decision to go to war in Iraq, and the illegal outing of a CIA operative's name.

But in an era when the question "What did the president know and when did he know it?" has become commonplace, Bush has a political edge that others in the Oval Office have lacked. [complete article]

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Blair caught in Iraqi arms row
By Sarah Hall, Patrick Wintour and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, February 5, 2004

Tony Blair's credibility over his use of intelligence before the Iraq invasion came under fresh assault yesterday when he said that at the time of the war he was personally unaware that Saddam Hussein did not have the ability to fire long-range chemical and biological weapons.

The prime minister's admission came in a day-long debate on the Hutton report yesterday and provoked heated exchanges.

Mr Blair made clear that at the start of the war he had had no knowledge of the fact that the government's infamous claim that Iraq could mobilise its banned weapons within 45 minutes of an order referred only to battlefield, as opposed to long-range, arms. Yesterday's claim surprised MPs on both sides of the house and drew incredulous responses from opponents of the war. [complete article]

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U.S. image abroad will take years to repair, official testifies
By Christopher Marquis, New York Times, February 5, 2004

Margaret D. Tutwiler, in her first public appearance as the State Department official in charge of public diplomacy, acknowledged Wednesday that America's standing abroad had deteriorated to such an extent that "it will take us many years of hard, focused work" to restore it.

Ms. Tutwiler, the former ambassador to Morocco, was recently tapped to try to address rising hostility toward the United States in much of the Muslim world.

In testimony before a House appropriations subcommittee, she agreed with the main findings of an independent panel that American outreach has suffered from budget cuts and neglect since the end of the cold war.

"Unfortunately, our country has a problem in far too many parts of the world," she said, "a problem we have regrettably gotten into over many years through both Democrat and Republican administrations, and a problem that does not lend itself to a quick fix or a single solution or a simple plan." [complete article]

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Iraqi officials wage political war in U.S.
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2004

While ordinary Iraqis argue in dusty streets over the shape of their country's new order, leaders of their provisional government are battling for power where it already exists -- in Washington.

Led by Ahmad Chalabi, one of the best-connected and most controversial Iraqi officials here, members of the Iraqi Governing Council are using lobbyists, political advisors and public relations firms to strengthen their ties with U.S. policymakers and reach the broader American and international audience.

The idea is to get Americans to help create the Iraq these leaders want, to help position them for leadership roles and to outflank their equally ambitious rivals.

Some say the politicking has gone too far. Almost from the day they were appointed, members of the Governing Council had drawn complaints from U.S. officials that they were spending too much time abroad and not enough on duties in Baghdad. [complete article]

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Gaza in exchange for the West Bank
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 5, 2004

An aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon once talked about a visit to Sharon's Sycamore Ranch, during which he toured with the premier in a jeep. "Here I would position an ambush," said the host, pointing toward a fold in the ground, "and from here, they can shoot at you." This is Sharon's view of the world. It's all about topography.

The formative experience of his life was the battle of Latrun on May 25, 1948, in which he fought as a platoon commander, was wounded, and barely made it out alive. When he recovered, Ariel Sharon decided that he would never let the Arabs win, that he would never abandon soldiers on the battlefield.

And another lesson drawn from the battle, in which the Jordanians fired from the top of the hill at his platoon, which was taking cover in a wadi: Capture the high ground. Adopting the same watchword, he would later build the settlements in the West Bank and the lookout villages in the Galilee. [complete article]

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Mystery cloaks Sharon's intentions
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, February 5, 2004

If Ariel Sharon's unprecedented decision to clear all the Jews out of Gaza was intended to distract public attention from a burgeoning corruption scandal, as some of his critics allege, then it worked.

The Israeli prime minister faces a police interrogation today over bribery allegations. But the political debate has shifted dramatically from whether he is on the brink of resignation to how serious he is about pulling the settlers out of Gaza.

The wave of scepticism that greeted his announcement on Monday has given way to a growing belief that Mr Sharon may, for once, mean what he says. [complete article]

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Israeli government in turmoil over Sharon Gaza pullout plan
By Ofer Shelah, Forward, February 6, 2004

Israel's political establishment began preparing itself this week for a major political shake-up in the wake of Prime Minister Sharon's detailing of his "disengagement plan" for Gaza and the West Bank.

The plan, first disclosed Monday in an interview in the daily Ha'aretz, was far more detailed than any withdrawal plan Sharon has offered in the past. Indeed, politicians across the political spectrum were taking him seriously rather than dismissing his words as posturing or playing for time, as most have done up to now. [complete article]

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When Israelis say, 'Hell no, we won't go'
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, February 5, 2004

Its simply chilling name has a distinct ring of George Orwell, but when the army of the one of the world's most military-conscious nations creates a conscience committee, nothing is that simple.

It has been eight years since the IDF conscience committee was set up. But the need for a such a body has deepened dramatically amid the moral complexities of the war in the territories and a consequent steep rise in the awareness of the pilots, elite commandos, grunts and draftees who have come forward - some quietly, some openly - to say that hell no, they won't go. [complete article]

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Ex-Mossad chief: option of killing Vanunu was on our minds
Reuters (via Haaretz), February 5, 2004

Israel's spy agency considered killing nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu in 1986 before deciding to abduct him for trial on treason charges, a former Mossad director said on Thursday.

Shabtai Shavit, who masterminded a "honey trap" for Vanunu after he told a British newspaper about his work at Israel's main atomic reactor, said he feared the ex-technician intends to spill more secrets upon his release from prison this April.

"I would be lying if I said that thought (assassination) did not go through many of our minds," Shavit said, recalling Mossad debates after the Sunday Times interview that blew away Israel's policy of ambiguity over its nuclear capabilities.

"But Jews do not do that to other Jews. He was a traitor, so in accordance with Jewish morality and Jewish law he paid for it with imprisonment," Shavit told Reuters. [complete article]

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Shelve Israel trade deal, say MPs
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, February 5, 2004

MPs today deliver the most damning verdict yet from a British parliamentary group on Israel's behaviour in the Palestinian occupied territories and calls for suspension of its billion-pound European Union trade agreement.

The report, by a Commons select committee which conducted a six-month inquiry last year, blames Israel's incursions, curfews, checkpoints and other restrictions - including its security wall along the West Bank - for choking the Palestinian economy.

The MPs say that what "makes the poverty so unpalatable is the level of deprivation vis a vis Israel, and the awareness that it is not the result of natural calamity but of deliberate actions on the part of the government of Israel". [complete article]

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Palestinian malnutrition at African levels under Israeli curbs, say MPs
By Ben Russell, The Independent, February 5, 2004

Malnutrition rates in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank are as bad as those in sub-Saharan Africa, [British] MPs said yesterday. They warned that the Israeli security fence around the occupied territories was "destroying the Palestinian economy and creating widespread poverty".

The all-party Commons International Development Committee called for European Union trade sanctions to be imposed on Israel until it allowed the free export of goods from the West Bank and Gaza. [complete article]

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German court acquits 9/11 suspect
BBC News, February 5, 2004

A German court has acquitted a Moroccan man accused of assisting three of the 11 September hijackers.

Abdelghani Mzoudi had admitted being a friend of the three men while they lived in Hamburg, but denied any prior knowledge of the US attacks in 2001.

The verdict was delayed for several hours after a lawyer representing 9/11 victims asked to submit new evidence.

Mr Mzoudi, 31, had faced charges of aiding and abetting the murder of several thousand people.

He was also cleared of a lesser charge of being a member of a terrorist organisation. [complete article]

Comment -- This case provides a great opportunity for anyone who wants to reflect on their understanding of and confidence in one of the most basic principles of law: innocent until proven guilty. National security is the most frequently used justification for suspending this principle. On top of this, in the court of public opinion someone like Mzoudi is already guilty by association. The nub of the issue is then, can we accept that a man can be set free because he could not be proven guilty even though suspicion remains that he may in fact have been part of a terrorist conspiracy? In other words, do we believe that failure to uphold a principle of due process presents a greater danger than the risk of acquitting someone who might not be innocent? Or, is the danger from terrorism so great that caution requires us imprison or even execute suspects whose guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt? If so, what kind of apparatus has the ability to both embody and override the rule of law?

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Military service becomes weapon in a Kerry-Bush race
By Elisabeth Bumiller and David M. Halbfinger

The contrast could not be more striking.

In March 1969, John Kerry, a 25-year-old Navy lieutenant, reached down from the boat he was piloting in Vietnam's treacherous Bay Hap River and in a spray of enemy fire pulled a soldier out of the water to safety. For his valor, Mr. Kerry won the Bronze Star with a combat "V" and his third Purple Heart.

That very same month, George W. Bush was on far-safer ground in Valdosta, Ga., learning to fly fighter planes for the Texas National Guard, a coveted post that greatly reduced any risk that he would be sent to Vietnam -- and one that he might not have obtained had his father not been a member of Congress.

Mr. Bush went on to miss a number of National Guard training sessions, although his spokesmen say he made up the dates and his records show he was honorably discharged.

Now, three decades later, the contrast between the military service of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush has exploded into a campaign issue. [complete article]

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'Kurdish Sept. 11' boosts resolve
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 2004

Kurdistan's two main political parties, rivals who had fought long and bloody civil wars for local dominance in the 1990s, were on the cusp of setting old animosities aside when terror returned to Arbil.

So it was a bitter irony that twin suicide attacks on Sunday morning - which Kurdish officials say they believe was organized by the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam - targeted both parties at a time when they are moving at full speed towards closer cooperation. Indeed, officials at the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) believe the two things are linked. [complete article]

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U.S. opens door to possibly delaying Iraq handover
By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters, February 4, 2004

U.S. officials opened the door on Wednesday to possibly delaying the June 30 handover of sovereignty to Iraqis, a move that may be unpopular with Iraqis and with Americans ahead of the U.S. presidential election.

Any delay would carry risks for the Bush administration, increasing the chances Iraq will loom larger in the Nov. 2 U.S. election and opening up Washington to accusations in Iraq that it is reneging on promises to let go of power. [complete article]

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Iraq Shiite leader backs multi-member presidential body
Agence France Presse, February 4, 2004

A multi-member presidential body could ease tensions between Iraq's different ethnic communities after the US-led coalition cedes power by end-June, according to Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

"The idea of a sovereignty council is not rejected from our side," Hakim, who heads the largest Shiite organisation, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told AFP in an interview late Tuesday. [complete article]

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Ricin is easy to make, has reputation as weapon of crackpots
By Sabin Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2004

Odorless, tasteless and soluble in water, the potent poison ricin has the potential to be a terrible weapon in the hands of terrorists. If injected into the body, it is one of the most deadly poisons known.

Yet, historically, this derivative of the castor bean plant has done little real damage to warrant its fearsome reputation.

Because it is relatively easy to make, it has turned up in the arsenals of crackpot militias, madmen and terrorist groups. U.S. troops unearthed equipment for making ricin in the Afghan base of Osama bin Laden, and now it has arrived in a Senate office mailroom in Washington, D.C. [complete article]

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Trimming the fat
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 3, 2004

To grasp the magnitude of President Bush's $420.7 billion military budget request, which he submitted to Congress on Monday, let's compare it with the military budget for 1968, the peak year of the Vietnam War. Adjusted for inflation, the budget that year -- when a half-million soldiers were fighting in Southeast Asia and a garrison of armored divisions in Europe were still facing Soviet forces along the East-West German border -- totaled $428 billion.

It's remarkable enough that Bush's budget seems to be only slightly smaller than that earlier wartime budget, but in fact it's much larger. For Lyndon Johnson's budget included -- in fact, was dominated by -- the cost of fighting in Vietnam. Bush's budget includes none of the cost of fighting in Iraq. That will be covered in a supplemental, which Bush will request from Congress after the November election.

Officials guess the supplemental will be around $50 billion (the one for this year was $65 billion), but even if it turns out to be just half that sum, the Fiscal Year 2005 military budget will be (again, adjusted for inflation) the largest U.S. military budget since 1952 -- the peak of the Korean War -- and the second-largest since World War II. [complete article]

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Gun-barrel democracy has failed time and again
By George W. Downs and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2004

When it involves itself in the affairs of others, the United States likes to say that it is doing so in defense of freedom and democracy. That's what we said in Iraq, among other things, when we toppled Saddam Hussein. That was part (though not all) of our argument for going after the Taliban in Afghanistan. But it's also what we said in Vietnam in the 1960s, in Grenada in 1983, in Panama in 1989 and in numerous other interventions during the 20th century.

In fact, presidents rarely fail to trot out "democracy" as a justification for their actions abroad. That's because it is popular with Americans, who like to feel they are on the side of the angels. But if it's democracy we're after, we are failing miserably. [complete article]

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Bush's military record defended
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, February 4, 2004

The White House, the Republican Party and the Bush-Cheney campaign mounted a choreographed defense yesterday of President Bush's attendance record in the National Guard and denounced Democrats for raising questions about his service. [...]

Bush's aides did not release new information to clear up questions about a one-year gap in the public record of Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Bush and his aides have said he reported to an Alabama unit during the period, from May 1972 to May 1973.

No paper record has surfaced that documents Bush's attendance. A former officer of the Alabama unit, to whom Bush was supposed to have reported, repeated on Monday to The Washington Post his assertion that he could not recall seeing Bush on the base. The officer, retired Brig. Gen. William Turnipseed, hedged from a similar statement he made to the Boston Globe in 2000, saying he could not recall if he had been on base much at that time. [complete article]

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White House says it also received ricin
By Seth Borenstein and Sumana Chatterjee, Knight Ridder, February 3, 2004

As investigators tried to hunt down the source of the toxin ricin that was found in a Senate leader's mailroom Monday, officials acknowledged Tuesday that the poison also was mailed to the White House late last year.

The disclosures mean that the FBI and others are investigating whether a string of incidents in which ricin was discovered in the United States and abroad means that bioterrorists were using the U.S. mail to distribute a lethal poison.

Capitol Police confirmed Tuesday that the white powdery substance found in the mail of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., was ricin, a toxin derived from the castor bean used or made by al-Qaida and domestic terrorists.

The confirmation was followed by the government's disclosure that ricin also was found in mail bound for the White House in November 2003. [complete article]

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Bush urges U.N. to help fix Iraqi clash on rule
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, February 4, 2004

President Bush pressed Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, on Tuesday to have his aides mediate among quarreling factions in Iraq and forge a consensus behind a plan that would allow the transfer of sovereignty to a government in Baghdad by June 30, administration officials said.

They said that without rapid progress on the political issues, the White House might agree to postpone Iraqi self-rule, but several officials said such a step would be a "last resort."

Mr. Annan has been given a dozen options for the transfer of sovereignty, the officials said, ranging from holding direct elections before June 30 to overhauling radically the unwieldy caucus system that is supposed to choose a new national assembly by that date.

The Bush administration had previously frozen the United Nations out of the transition process in Iraq. [complete article]

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Iraqi insurgency is as lethal as ever since Hussein's capture
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2004

Nearly two months after the capture of Saddam Hussein, the casualty rate among U.S. soldiers and Iraqis in insurgent attacks has accelerated, and much of this nation's Sunni Muslim heartland remains a perilous zone of conflict -- with bouts of violence also striking the Kurdish north and the Shiite south.

The most recent spate of bloodshed includes bombings last weekend in the northern cities of Irbil and Mosul as well as last month's suicide attack outside the main U.S. compound in Baghdad, blasts that claimed well over 100 lives.

Iraqi security forces, civilians and others deemed collaborators are now the major targets, and although attacks on U.S. troops have diminished in number, they remain lethal: 45 soldiers were killed in January, according to unofficial tallies, compared with 40 in December. [complete article]

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Israel knew Iraq had no WMD, says Israeli MP
Associated Press (via The Guardian), February 4, 2004

A prominent Israeli MP said yesterday that his country's intelligence services knew claims that Saddam Hussein was capable of swiftly launching weapons of mass destruction were wrong but withheld the information from Washington.

"It was known in Israel that the story that weapons of mass destruction could be activated in 45 minutes was an old wives' tale," Yossi Sarid, a member of the foreign affairs and defence committee which is investigating the quality of Israeli intelligence on Iraq, told the Associated Press yesterday.

"Israel didn't want to spoil President Bush's scenario, and it should have," he said. [complete article]

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Israel 'to free nuclear whistleblower'
Al-Jazeera, February 2, 2004

The Israeli government is set to release a former technician jailed for 18 years after he exposed the country's covert nuclear weapons programme, a newspaper has said.

Mordechai Vanunu will be freed in April, but placed under tight surveillance, the Yediot Ahronot reported on Monday.

Israel's security services would bar Vanunu from giving press interviews, publishing a book, travelling overseas or within Israel, and planned to monitor his correspondence, the paper added. [complete article]

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Avoiding a Mideast water war
By Mark Zeitoun, Washington Post, February 4, 2004

Last summer was long and hot in the West Bank. It was also very dry. Palestinian summers typically are dry, and water for crops and drinking has always been scarce. But for Palestinians suffering under a double yoke of drought-level rainfall and the Israeli occupation, these years are drier and thirstier than ever. The only permanent surface watercourses in the area are the Jordan River and the Lake of Tiberias. The waters are allocated, under the terms of a 1996 agreement, between Jordan and Israel. The Palestinians living along the Jordan River's west bank are entitled to not a drop of it. [complete article]

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Gaza's settlers dig in their heels
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, February 4, 2004

Maayan Yaday and her husband were hauling the packing cases into their new home as Ariel Sharon announced his intention to clear them and all the other Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip.

Yesterday, Mrs Yaday laughed off his plan and predicted she would be living in the tiny Gaza settlement of Nezer Hazani long after the prime minister was replaced.

She is convinced of her historical and religious claim to the land, even though five years ago she was Croatian and Catholic.

"Sharon promised he would not give away our land. This is Israel, it's not Palestine," she said. "In Croatia we gave up one piece of land, then they wanted another piece of land. The Muslims don't want to stop. They want our souls and they want our blood." [complete article]

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Now Sharon plans to move Arab towns out of Israel
Press Association (via Scotsman), February 3, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is considering redrawing Israel's border to place parts of Israel's Arab population under Palestinian control in a final peace deal, a senior official said today.

The official stressed that any such move would have to be accepted by Israeli Arabs and come only as part of a final treaty with the Palestinians.

However, the idea threatened to arouse the deepest fears of Israel's Arab minority and drew immediate criticism from an Israeli Arab leader.

Roughly 20% of Israel's 6.6 million citizens are Arabs. Unlike their Palestinian counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel captured in 1967, Israelis Arabs have the right to vote, receive Israeli social services and can work inside Israel. [complete article]

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In Sharon's move, less concession for peace than preparation for failure
By James Bennet, New York Times (via IHT), February 4, 2004

After three years of saying he was prepared to make "painful concessions" to the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has convulsed Israeli politics by revealing, at least partly, what he has in mind: evacuating most or all settlers from the Gaza Strip, and a small number from the West Bank.

In doing so, he has undermined ideological pillars he himself helped put in place for the settlement movement: that settlements protect Israel rather than weaken it, and that to evacuate any of them under fire would only reward and encourage terrorists. That helps explain settlers' furious reaction. "It's a disaster," said Shaul Goldstein, a settler leader from the relatively moderate Gush Etzion settlement bloc, a community south of Jerusalem. "I think Sharon is old and tired, and this is very sad to say." [complete article]

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British intelligence chief's bombshell: 'We were overruled on dossier'
By Paul Waugh, The Independent, February 4, 2004

The intelligence official whose revelations stunned the Hutton inquiry has suggested that not a single defence intelligence expert backed Tony Blair's most contentious claims on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

As Mr Blair set up an inquiry yesterday into intelligence failures before the war, Brian Jones, the former leading expert on WMD in the Ministry of Defence, declared that Downing Street's dossier, a key plank in convincing the public of the case for war, was "misleading" on Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological capability. Writing in today's Independent, Dr Jones, who was head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) until he retired last year, reveals that the experts failed in their efforts to have their views reflected.

Dr Jones, who is expected to be a key witness at the new inquiry, says: "In my view, the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002, resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities." [complete article]

Dr Brian Jones was formerly head of the branch within the Scientific and Technical Directorate of Defence Intelligence Staff that was responsible for the analysis of intelligence from all sources on nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. He retired in January 2003.

See Dr Jones' statement.

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The awful truth about Iraq
By James Carroll, Boston Globe, February 3, 2004

Since David A. Kay's testimony before a Senate committee last week, the public focus has fixed upon mistaken intelligence that led to the American invasion of Iraq. Democrats are pounding the issue, which may actually be fine with President Bush. Events of a year ago are not the urgent question. Democrats should be asking, "What about Iraq right now?" No one misses Saddam Hussein, but the unjustified method of his removal has set in motion a train of terrible consequences. Politicians, including the leading Democratic presidential candidates, would rather talk about past American "mistakes" than present policies or future decisions for the simple reason that the present and the future of Iraq involve certain tragedy for which the United States is responsible.

Such is the climate of chaos that the Bush aggression has created that there is no clear way forward, and bad things are going to happen in Iraq -- no matter what Washington does now. Such unhappy news can sink the politician who dares admit it. Better to advance the conventional wisdom that, however mistaken the origins of this conflict, there is no choice now but to "see it through" -- if only to "support the troops." [complete article]

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Death toll hits 110 in attacks on Kurds
By Tom Lasseter, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 3, 2004

The death toll from a pair of suicide bombings in the offices of two Kurdish political parties rose to at least 110 yesterday as politicians began to debate whether the violence would further unravel U.S. plans for a unified Iraq.

Workers washed blood and body parts from the floors and ceilings of the rooms where the explosions occurred in the middle of holiday receptions Sunday for dozens of political figures and their followers in this northern city, the center of the Kurdish self-rule region.

Dakhil Khuder, who supervises the Irbil morgue, said his workers stopped counting the dead at 67. "We started putting bodies on the ground outside, and families would come by and put them in a car," he said.

Interviews with administrators at three of the city's five hospitals indicated that 110 people were confirmed dead and more than 200 were injured. Standing outside the regional governor's office, a spokesman said there were no local senior officials to comment. They all died in the blasts, he said. [complete article]

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Plan omits costs in Iraq and Afghanistan
By Eric Schmitt and Robert Pear, New York Times, February 3, 2004

Bush administration officials said on Monday that the cost of United States military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan had been omitted from President Bush's budget request for 2005. But they said the White House would make a separate supplemental request, after this year's elections, seeking up to $50 billion.

The officials said the omission was justified because they had no way to know exactly how much money would be needed. But Democrats criticized the omission, saying it led to a significant understatement of the likely deficit and masked the financial and political costs of the missions.

"This budget attempts to hide the true cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by delaying funding on all known and necessary costs of the war until a supplemental appropriation can be approved next year," said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who is on the Armed Services Committee. [complete article]

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Powell says new data may have affected war decision
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 3, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that he does not know whether he would have recommended an invasion of Iraq if he had been told it had no stockpiles of banned weapons, even as he offered a broad defense of the Bush administration's decision to go to war.

Even without possessing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein intended to acquire them and tried to maintain the capability of producing them in case international sanctions were lifted, Powell said in an interview. But he conceded that the administration's conviction that Hussein already had such weapons had made the case for war more urgent. [complete article]

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Army study of Iraq war details a 'morass' of supply shortages
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, February 3, 2004

The first official Army history of the Iraq war reveals that American forces were plagued by a "morass" of supply shortages, radios that could not reach far-flung troops, disappointing psychological operations and virtually no reliable intelligence on how Saddam Hussein would defend Baghdad.

Logistics problems, which senior Army officials played down at the time, were much worse than have previously been reported. While the study serves mainly as a technical examination of how the Army performed and the problems it faced, it could also serve as a political document that could advance the Army's interests within the Pentagon. [complete article]

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Nepal & the Bush administration: Into thin air
By Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus, February 3, 2004

Tucked into the upper stories of the Himalayas, Nepal hardly seems ground zero for the Bush administration's next crusade against "terrorism," but an aggressive American ambassador, a strategic locale, and a flood of U.S. weaponry threatens to turn the tiny country of 25 million into a counter-insurgency bloodbath.

More than 8,000 Nepalese have died since a civil war broke out in 1996, and the death rate has sharply increased with the arrival of almost 8,400 American M-16 submachine guns, accompanied by U.S. advisers, high-tech night fighting equipment, and British helicopters. [...]

The central protagonists in the current war are King Gyanendra, who abolished an elected parliament last year, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPNM), which is leading a rural insurrection, and a group of five political parties that found themselves out in the cold when the monarchy took over.

The Bush administration has concluded that the civil war threatens to make Nepal a "failed state" and a haven for international terrorists, leading it to place the CPNM on the State Department's "Watch List," along with organizations like al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, and Lebanon's Hezbollah. [complete article]

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Democrats doubt intelligence commission
By Mark Matthews, Baltimore Sun, February 3, 2004

Democratic congressional leaders sharply criticized President Bush's plans to appoint his own commission to investigate intelligence failures before the Iraq war, saying yesterday that the panel would not be sufficiently independent to examine whether the administration misled Congress and the public about the threat from Iraq.

In a letter to Bush, the Democrats told the president he "would be making a serious mistake" in establishing the commission by executive order and appointing all its members.

The leaders demanded that Bush wait for Congress to create a commission through legislation, as it did with the panel currently investigating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. [complete article]

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Bush's inquiry into Iraq intelligence must include Cheney, Pentagon
By Jonathan S. Landay, Warren P. Strobel and Joseph L. Galloway, Knight Ridder, February 2, 2004

What went wrong with intelligence on Iraq will never be known unless the inquiry proposed by President Bush examines secret intelligence efforts led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon hawks, current and former U.S officials said Monday.

The officials said they feared that Bush, gearing up his fight for re-election, would try to limit the inquiry’s scope to the CIA and other agencies, and ignore the key role the administration’s own internal intelligence efforts played in making the case for war.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, didn’t dispute that the CIA failed to accurately assess the state of Iraq’s weapons programs. But they said that the intelligence efforts led by Cheney magnified the errors through exaggeration, oversights and mistaken deductions. [complete article]

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Blame, blindness . . .
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, February 3, 2004

Now that President Bush, with all the enthusiasm of a dog going to the vet, has been yanked into naming a bipartisan commission to look into intelligence failures in Iraq, I'd like to see yet another commission established. This one would look into the real failure of intelligence -- not the CIA but America's political, social and intellectual leadership. No mere analyst at the CIA caused us to go to war for the wrong reasons. [complete article]

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We had good intel -- the U.N.'s
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, February 9, 2004

"We were all wrong," says weapons inspector David Kay. Actually, no. There was one group whose prewar estimates of Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities have turned out to be devastatingly close to reality -- the U.N. inspectors. Consider what Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear agency, told the Security Council on March 7, 2003, after his team had done 247 inspections at 147 sites: "no evidence of resumed nuclear activities ... nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any related sites." He went on to say that evidence suggested Iraq had not imported uranium since 1990 and no longer had a centrifuge program. He concluded that Iraq's nuclear capabilities had been effectively dismantled by 1997 and its dual-use industrial plants had decayed. All these claims appear to be dead-on, based on Kay's findings. [complete article]

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Intelligence panel will cast net beyond Iraq
By Dana Priest and Dana Milbank, Washington Post, February 3, 2004

The White House said the president will release the names of the commission members later this week when he signs an executive order creating the panel. The group will include some former and current members of Congress, one White House official said.

The administration has already contacted some people it hopes will serve, and it is waiting for acceptances, officials said. They declined to provide names but spoke admiringly of former senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who is president of the New School University, as the sort of nonpartisan statesman they are seeking. He is a member of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Other names floated by officials were William H. Webster and James Woolsey, both former CIA directors. Woolsey said in an interview that he had not been contacted. [complete article]

Comment -- If James Woolsey -- a man who before the war merrily tried to popularize the slogan, "Give war a chance" -- is included in this commission it will be exposed as an utter charade.

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Kay questions U.S. pre-emptive strike doctrine
By Jackie Frank, Reuters, February 1, 2004

The former top U.S. weapons hunter in Iraq, David Kay, said on Sunday flaws in U.S. intelligence in prewar Iraq brought into question President Bush's policy of pre-emptive strike against countries deemed a threat to the United States.

Bush based his decision to invade Iraq on what he called a "grave and gathering danger" posed by Iraq's biological and chemical weapons and warranted assertion of his post-Sept. 11, 2001, doctrine of pre-emptive military action to guard U.S. security in the face of new terror threats.

"If you cannot rely on good, accurate intelligence that is credible to the American people and to others abroad, you certainly can't have a policy of preemption," Kay said on Fox News Sunday. [complete article]

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The lies that bind us to Iraq
By Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2004

The central sickness of human history is the notion that the ends justify the means, and it has disastrously gripped political movements from left to right and from the secular to the religious. It is axiomatic that immoral means will inevitably corrupt the noblest of ends, as has been displayed from the fatal hubris of the Roman Empire down through the genocidal policies of the last century's nationalists, communists and colonialists and on through the suicide bombers of today.

Yet this profoundly immoral posture has been embraced by President Bush in justifying his preemptive war against Iraq, even when the much-touted Iraqi threat proved at best to be based on inexcusable ignorance and at worst to be impeachable fraud. The undemocratic means employed by Bush -- misinforming the public, Congress and the United Nations -- are now somehow to be justified by the ends of "building democracy" in Iraq. This is a daunting challenge that the American people never signed on for and which seems as elusive a goal today as a year ago. [complete article]

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WMD in our own backyard
By Jonathan Turley, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2004

Since Sept. 11, President Bush has repeatedly stressed that the country is at war and that we all must make sacrifices for national security. Indeed, hundreds of soldiers have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. Environmental laws and civil liberties have been rolled back. Citizens must shoulder a projected 10-year deficit of up to $5 trillion.

However, at least some corporate citizens are being held to a different standard -- requiring neither sacrifice nor security. When it comes to the giant railroad company CSX, even a threat to the government seems an insufficient reason to threaten profits. [complete article]

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A hole in the heart of Kurdistan
By Peter W. Galbraith, New York Times, February 3, 2004

On Saturday, the day before he died, Sami Abdul Rahman and I sat in the living room of my elegant government guest house here and discussed American negotiating techniques. We had become friends when we fled together from his hometown, Dihok, as the 1991 Kurdish uprising collapsed. Sami became deputy prime minister of the Kurdish regional government and, since last year, one of its negotiators in discussions on Iraq's interim constitution. As such, he was fully familiar with one American technique: papering over differences with nice-sounding language. As he took his leave, he said he would be looking hard at a new American proposal to see if cosmetic changes in language masked a loss of actual authority for his government.

Sami Abdul Rahman was one of six senior Kurdish government officials who, along with at least 60 others, was killed here on Sunday in suicide bombings at the offices of the two principal Kurdish parties. I visited one of the bomb sites on Monday, and even with the bodies removed, the scale of the destruction was evident in the mangled furniture, collapsed walls, scorch marks and pools of bright blood. The Kurdish leaders are a tightknit group, many related by blood or marriage, who have worked together for decades and across generations. Seeing so many die so suddenly and so horribly has left them in shock.
[complete article]

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Kurd rivals unite as they mourn bomb victims
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, February 3, 2004

The explosion here on Sunday morning and another identical suicide blast minutes later at a party hosted by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan on the other side of Irbil together claimed 67 lives, American officials said yesterday. At least 267 others were injured, many critically.

As workers began to clear the scenes of the two explosions, hundreds of people gathered at mosques across the Kurdish town of Irbil to mourn the victims of one of the worst acts of violence in Iraq since the war.

Many Kurds said the bombings would only intensify their long-held demands for autonomy within the new Iraq. [complete article]

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Sharon's plan: 20 settlements to go within a year or two
By Yoel Marcus, Haaretz, February 3, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, set to visit Washington at the end of the month, will present President George W. Bush a detailed list of the settlements he plans to dismantle in the Gaza Strip, Army Radio reported Tuesday.

Sparking a political storm Monday, Sharon told Haaretz that he has ordered plans drafted for the relocation of 17 settlements in the Strip and three in the northern West Bank, a move that he said could take one to two years. [complete article]

[support this site] [permanent link to this entry] [home] takes ad campaign against Pentagon adviser Richard Perle underground
Press release, February 2, 2004

Yesterday, began a month-long campaign challenging Pentagon adviser Richard Perle's personal conflicts of interest by placing ads in 10 prominent subway stations throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.'s executive editor, Nick Penniman said, "Perle is further evidence of the decadent mercenary culture that governs Washington today. He's one of the most prominent armchair generals, who doesn't hesitate to advocate war as long as he can fight it from the safety of a television studio or a Washington think tank." [complete article]

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Bush and the ayatollah
By Salim Lone, The Guardian, February 3, 2004

From the beginning, elections were a key issue in Iraq, the US preferring to bypass them while the Shias, in particular, saw them as a way to end their centuries-old marginalisation under the Ottomans, the British and Saddam Hussein. Indeed, [Ayatollah] Sistani issued a fatwa early in the occupation asserting that the constitution would have to be written by an elected body, scuppering coalition plans for a US-appointed group to draft it. Indeed, one of the few tense moments in the relationship between Paul Bremer and Sergio Vieira de Mello, Annan's representative in Iraq, who died in the bombing of the UN headquarters, concerned this issue.

That this electoral crisis evolved into a confrontation with Sistani is another example of the isolation of Paul Bremer's team. Having made bitter enemies of the Sunnis earlyin the occupation and more recently through Israeli-style tactics in their civilian areas, it was reckless to challenge Sistani, whose implicit acquiescence in the occupation has been instrumental in restraining an open Shia revolt. But this support was explicitly predicated on speedy elections. Astonishingly, this powerful cleric's concern was ignored. So he has now added an even tougher demand: that any decision on asking coalition forces to stay after the handover can be taken only by an elected body. Sistani is in effect incrementally challenging the whole range of occupation policies, riddled as they have been with blunders of breathtaking magnitude. [complete article]

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Bombings cripple more than civilians
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2004

When two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside the offices of the two main Kurdish political parties Sunday, they not only killed scores of civilians but further crippled Iraq's move toward self-governance.

The violence seems certain to reduce the already slim chances of Iraqi elections before July and could even delay those scheduled for early 2005 -- complicating U.S. efforts to turn over power to an interim government that could be regarded as legitimate. In addition, it could strengthen Kurdish groups that want to break away from the rest of the country.

After months of primarily targeting U.S. forces and members of the Iraqi police, the insurgents appeared to be targeting potential members of an independent Iraqi government, including the Kurdish political parties that dominate northern Iraq, analysts said. [complete article]

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Wolfowitz: Iraq attacks show U.S. efforts succeeding
By Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters (via Wired), February 2, 2004

Attacks in Iraq like the Arbil suicide bombings show efforts to build a new Iraq are succeeding and that extremists are using violence to stop the process, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said on Monday. [...]

He predicted that these types of attacks would ultimately unite Iraqis against the violent extremists.

"September 11 had united Americans, and Bali united Indonesians and this terrible thing is going to unite Iraqis, It's not going to have the effect the terrorists seem to want," Wolfowitz said.

"The targets aren't just Americans, the targets are Kurds and Shi'ites, and anyone who is cooperating to build this new Iraq, he said. "And the more successful we are the more we can expect them to go after those things that represent success. But we're gaining ground and they're losing ground." [complete article]

Comment -- In the event that the United States is hit by another terrorist attack, should we expect Paul Wolfowitz to respond by saying that this is a sure sign that America is winning the war on terrorism?

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Iraqi Kurds mourn 65 bomb dead, vow to unite for federalism
Agence France Presse, February 2, 2004

The Kurds of northern Iraq were in mourning as rival Kurdish political parties vowed to unite in their drive for a federal state despite being targeted by twin suicide bombings that cost 65 lives.

Black flags were hung in streets throughout the three Kurdish provinces to honour victims of Sunday's attacks in the city of Arbil, as the rest of Iraq began muted celebrations for the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice.

Bombers strapped with explosives unleashed a wave of carnage after mingling with guests gathered to celebrate the feast at the separate offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but a top coalition official said Monday they could be "payback" for last week's capture, with the aid of Kurds, of a senior Al-Qaeda figure. [complete article]

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U.S. missile defense set to get early start
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, February 2, 2004

The Pentagon plans to begin operation of a national missile defense system this summer, putting the first missile interceptors on alert weeks ahead of a previous autumn deadline, according to senior defense officials.

The accelerated schedule, if realized, would enable President Bush to claim fulfillment of a major 2000 campaign pledge earlier than officials had indicated. The United States currently lacks a defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles. Erecting such a system has been not only a top Bush priority but also a longtime Republican Party goal.

Democratic lawmakers have challenged the urgency and expense of the project, and scientists and other critics have warned that Bush's approach relies on unproven technology. [complete article]

Missile defense testing may be inadequate
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, January 22, 2004

The Pentagon's top weapons evaluator said yesterday that setbacks in the Bush administration's effort to develop a national missile defense system are likely to make it difficult for him to assess the system's effectiveness ahead of its planned deployment in September.

In his annual review of major new weapons, Thomas P. Christie, who heads the Pentagon's office of operational test and evaluation, expressed concern about the small number of flight tests in the missile defense program and about the relatively simple nature of those tests. Even with two more flight intercept attempts planned this year, Christie doubted that enough information will be available to render much of a judgment about the system's ability to defend the United States against missile attack. [complete article]

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Sharon orders Gaza pullout plan
BBC News, February 2, 2004

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered a plan for the evacuation of all Jewish settlers from Gaza.

He told his Likud Party he intended to relocate all "problematic" settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Analysts say it is the most specific pledge yet by Mr Sharon, though he gave no timetable for withdrawal and said he would want settlers to agree first.

Settlers' groups and senior politicians came out immediately against the plan which would affect about 7,500 Jews. [complete article]

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War comes home in a coffin
By Ellen Barry, Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2004

A month after Army Capt. Kimberly N. Hampton's helicopter was shot down in Iraq, her death reverberates in the hill town that sent her to war.

At the elementary school across the railroad tracks, children have clipped newspaper articles about her and taped them to the wall. At the tiny Art Deco movie theater on Main Street, the marquee was lettered with her name. At the high school, and at Bob Seaborn's Body Shop, and at Buck's Drive-In, and at the Dixie Lumber Co., the signs bore one announcement -- her name.

Hampton died Jan. 2, the 492nd American soldier to die in Iraq since the beginning of the war. A few days later, a Black Hawk was shot down nearby, killing all nine soldiers aboard, and Hampton's death became a footnote in a larger story about the insurgency.

But not in this part of South Carolina. [complete article]

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Anti-Bush sentiment, belief in electability fueling Kerry bandwagon
By Steven Thomma, Knight Ridder, February 1, 2004

The bandwagon is starting to roll for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Impressed by his sweep of the Democratic presidential contest in the first two states to vote, Iowa and New Hampshire, Democrats nationwide appear ready to rally behind him because he looks more like a winner against President Bush than anyone else in the field.

Kerry's support entering this pivotal week was surging in many of the seven states that vote Tuesday.

To be sure, any of several rivals still could defeat Kerry in selected states next Tuesday or beyond. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean vowed to resurrect his faltering campaign when it turns to more liberal terrain in the industrial Midwest and Pacific Northwest. He promised to carry his campaign on to the party's July convention in Boston.

But with stunning swiftness, a consensus started to emerge in recent days among many Democrats that Kerry should and would win the nomination. Regardless of their passion for Kerry, they started to find unity in their passionate dislike for Bush and hunger for a champion to oppose him.
[complete article]

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Probe to go beyond Iraq war
By Joseph Curl, Washington Times, February 2, 2004

President Bush this week will order the creation of a nine-member, bipartisan commission to conduct a broad investigation of the U.S. intelligence community that goes beyond questions about the Iraq war, a senior administration official said yesterday.

The commission will comprise intelligence experts -- possibly including past or current members of Congress -- but will not complete its work until next year, well after the presidential election Nov. 2, said the White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. [complete article]

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Restoring trust in America
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Washington Post, February 2, 2004

Whether or how our national leadership should be held accountable for having inaccurately asserted, at war's outset, that Iraq was armed with weapons of mass destruction is ultimately a matter for the politicians to debate and the electorate to resolve. But two consequences with ominous implications for our national security call for a more urgent response: U.S. credibility worldwide has been badly hurt by the WMD affair, and U.S. intelligence capabilities have been exposed as woefully inadequate.

America is preponderant in the world today, but it is not omnipotent. Thus America must have the capacity, when needed, to mobilize the genuine and sincere support of other countries, particularly of its closest allies. It can do so only if it is trusted.

That U.S. credibility has been hurt is indisputable. It is a serious matter when the world's No. 1 superpower undertakes a war claiming a casus belli that turns out to have been false. Numerous public opinion polls demonstrate there has been a worldwide drop in support for U.S. foreign policy. There is manifest resentment of recent American conduct and a pervasive distrust of America's leaders, even in countries that have participated in the coalition in Iraq. Trust is an essential ingredient of power, and its loss bears directly on our long-term national security. An America that is preponderant but distrusted is an America internationally weakened. [complete article]

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Faulty evidence and an eager victim
By William Raspberry, Washington Post, February 2, 2004

When President Bush is asked whether he regrets attacking Iraq on what now turns out to be bad information, he always answers to the effect that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power.

Which is no answer at all. I can think of many world leaders (and even a few members of the Bush administration) whose absence from power would leave the world better off. But that does not justify turning thought into violent action. [complete article]

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For Bush, a tactical retreat on Iraq
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, February 2, 2004

In deciding to back an independent review of the intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, President Bush is implicitly conceding what he cannot publicly say: that something appears to be seriously wrong with the allegations he used to take the nation to war in Iraq.

Most everybody in a position to know has agreed that a huge mistake has been made. [complete article]

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Ex-arms inspector now in center of a political maelstrom
By Christopher Marquis, New York Times, February 2, 2004

David A. Kay, the arms inspector who changed his mind about the existence of unconventional weapons in Iraq, is perplexed by all the fuss he has caused. The weapons are simply not there, he says; it is empirical.

Yet since he went public with his findings in recent days, Dr. Kay, a plain-spoken technocrat, has been in the center of a political maelstrom. The C.I.A. is fighting for its reputation, and the Bush administration is battling accusations that it went to war on the basis of false information. [complete article]

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An intelligence inquiry that's awash in disputes at the outset
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, February 2, 2004

Intelligence officials have long been wary of outsiders' second-guessing. But they have reluctantly begun to acknowledge that a major overhaul could be in order after what may be two of the greatest intelligence setbacks in decades: the failure to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks and the misjudgment of Iraq's weapons stockpiles. They hope the independent commission President Bush will appoint can offer them more help and less finger pointing.

Within the Central Intelligence Agency in particular, the words intelligence review still conjure bitter memories from the 1970's and the Congressional inquiry by the committee headed by Senator Frank Church, whose effort to unearth abuses and impose reforms is remembered by many as an inquisition. The kinds of solutions recommended for spy agencies by Congressional panels and blue-ribbon commissions have been derided, then and since, by many intelligence professionals as naïve or unworkable.

"Unless we're prepared for another intelligence failure, we need to get about the business of improving our intelligence service," said Representative Porter J. Goss, the Florida Republican who, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and as a former spy, is perhaps the C.I.A.'s most important ally on Capitol Hill. [complete article]

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Blair set to decide on WMD inquiry
By Matthew Tempest, The Guardian, February 2, 2004

Downing Street appeared today to be on the brink of a climbdown over granting an inquiry into the intelligence basis for the war in Iraq.

Following the announcement in Washington last night that the US president, George Bush, had ordered an investigation into evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly held by Saddam Hussein, No 10 today said it was on the point of making a statement to parliament on the subject.

That could come either later today, or, quite possibly, as Mr Blair is questioned by the heads of select committees tomorrow morning. [complete article]

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A half-truth may not be a lie, but it is still dishonest
By David Clark, The Guardian, February 2, 2004

Having been so emphatically acquitted of any wrongdoing by Lord Hutton, Tony Blair must be dismayed by the barrage of headlines and opinion polls suggesting that the country at large is far from impressed. A good cover-up requires at least a veneer of plausibility. In failing to provide one, Hutton has not only tarnished his own reputation, he has provoked a backlash far stronger than the one that would have greeted a more qualified government victory.

Blair may have cowed the BBC into a grovelling apology, but at what cost? Many now feel that he has used up a lifetime's supply of benefit of the doubt and that's a dangerous position for a prime minister to be in.

The chain of reasoning that produced this skewed outcome requires some explanation. It arose because Hutton, in assessing the charge that the government "sexed-up" the September dossier, relied on a definition of the term so extreme that he couldn't fail to acquit the government of it - namely, that it inserted information it knew to be false. I have never met anyone who actually believed that to be true. Andrew Gilligan didn't believe it even as the accusation stumbled from his lips at 6.07am on May 29. That's why it was omitted from later reports. To set that as the sole test of the government's integrity was quite illogical, not least since it formed no part of Downing Street's original complaint. [complete article]

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Attacks increase ethnic tension ahead of handover
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, February 2, 2004

The devastating attacks in Irbil will add to the growing political and security crisis which the coalition provisional authority must resolve before the handover to an Iraqi government, which is due to take power in July.

So far the US army has committed negligible resources to policing the northern Kurdish enclave, which has for the most part been spared the violence that has racked the rest of the country.

In recent weeks the CPA had felt more confident that it had succeeded in curbing the number of insurgent attacks in and around Baghdad. But although assaults against the US military have become less frequent, insurgents appear to have turned their sights on softer targets, particularly police stations, hotels, restaurants and, occasionally, political party offices. [complete article]

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Israel must talk to Hamas to achieve peace, says former MI6 man
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, February 2, 2004

A former MI6 officer who held secret talks with Palestinian extremist leaders and helped to arrange a ceasefire last year has said that Middle East peace can be achieved only if Israel negotiates with Hamas.

In his first extensive published comments, Alastair Crooke, 54, has proposed a radical departure from the Israeli policy, supported by Britain and the United States, of isolating and excluding the Palestinian groups that carry out suicide bombings inside Israel.

Mr Crooke was a security adviser to Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, and special envoy to the Middle East for six years until he was recalled by the Foreign Office, from which he was seconded, last September. While serving in MI6 Mr Crooke was involved in clandestine contacts between the British Government and the IRA that helped lay the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

His approach, which will be hailed as visionary by some and appeasement by others, appears to owe much to his background in Northern Ireland. [complete article]

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U.S., China are on collision course over oil
By Gal Luft, Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2004

Sixty-seven years ago, oil-starved Japan embarked on an aggressive expansionary policy designed to secure its growing energy needs, which eventually led the nation into a world war. Today, another Asian power thirsts for oil: China.

While the U.S. is absorbed in fighting the war on terror, the seeds of what could be the next world war are quietly germinating. With 1.3 billion people and an economy growing at a phenomenal 8% to 10% a year, China, already a net oil importer, is growing increasingly dependent on imported oil. Last year, its auto sales grew 70% and its oil imports were up 30% from the previous year, making it the world's No. 2 petroleum user after the U.S. By 2030, China is expected to have more cars than the U.S. and import as much oil as the U.S. does today. [complete article]

Comment -- This commentary deals with a hugely important issue. Nevertheless, it neglects to confront the fact that an oil junkie(the US) that is doing little to overcome its own addiction is not well placed to persuade another user (China) from falling into the same trap. Moreover, while dwelling on the geo-political risks of China's looming dependence on Mideast oil, the author neglects to mention the peril to the planet resulting from America and China's voracious consumption of oil.

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Bush's desolate imperium
By Bernard Chazelle, Counterpunch, January 31, 2004

Ah, the ease with which George W. Bush attracts superlatives! Helen Thomas calls him "the worst president ever." A kinder, gentler Jonathan Chait ranks him "among the worst presidents in US history." No such restraint from Paul Berman, who brands him "the worst president the US has ever had." Nobel Laureate George Akerlof rates his government as the "worst ever." Even Bushie du jour, Christopher Hitchens, calls the man "unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things." Only Fidel Castro, it would appear, has had kind words for our 43rd President. "Hopefully, he is not as stupid as he seems, nor as Mafia-like as his predecessors were." [complete article]

An abridged version of this article can be read here.

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On the dark side of democracy
By Emily Eakin, New York Times, January 31, 2004

To most Americans, the notion that free markets and democracy are essential to curing the world's ills is an article of faith. If only Iraq and Afghanistan, Cuba and North Korea, Syria and Rwanda would adopt both, their people, not to mention the world, would be safer and richer.

Yet to Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, such accepted wisdom is mostly evidence of a persistent and disturbing national naïveté. All too often, she says, bringing free markets and elections to developing nations leads not to stability or prosperity but to hate-mongering, discrimination and even genocidal violence.

The idea that political and economic liberty could trigger such atrocities is heretical to many Western liberals. That, Ms. Chua says, is because people here are blind to ethnicity.

"I think it's kind of a taboo topic in the West," said Ms. Chua, 41, during an interview at her office on the Yale campus. America, she said, doesn't like to talk about ethnic conflict: despite a long history of racial problems, assimilation is part of the national creed. But in much of the developing world, she argues, nations are starkly divided along ethnic lines. Disproportionately wealthy ethnic minorities -- Ms. Chua calls them market-dominant minorities -- exist alongside poor and resentful majorities. And in such cases, she insists, adding democracy and free markets can be disastrous.

As she states the case in her recent book, "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability"(Doubleday, 2003): "Markets concentrate wealth, often spectacular wealth, in the hands of the market-dominant minority, while democracy increases the political power of the impoverished majority. In these circumstances the pursuit of free market democracy becomes an engine of potentially catastrophic ethnonationalism." And this, she adds, is precisely what is happening today in Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Russia and the Middle East." [complete article]

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The mess in Afghanistan
By Ahmed Rashid, New York Review of Books, February 12, 2004

Late in the summer of 2003, with American forces bogged down in Iraq and Saddam Hussein still at large, the Bush administration appeared to have what one senior US official in Kabul described to me as an epiphany. With no turning point in Iraq in sight, he said, no accomplishment that might help the President's approval rating as the country entered an election year, Bush's advisers decided that Afghanistan needed to be turned into a success story. If Osama bin Laden could not be caught, at least there should be an Afghan presidential election that could be publicized as a major step forward in the war against terrorism. For that to happen, more money was needed, reconstruction had to be accelerated, and the creation of new Afghan security forces speeded up. And, for the first time, the official said, the US began to recognize that to carry out these plans, the warlords had to be neutralized. [complete article]

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Who's in charge in the territories?
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, February 1, 2004

In the past three years, Israel has played a double game: on the one hand, it has removed the PA [Palestinian Authority] from any position of power and decision making, destroyed its infrastructure of security and civilian control, reoccupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and blocked any attempt to advance a political process. On the other hand, Israel has continued to insist that the PA is exclusively responsible for everything that happens, has depicted it as a terrorist organization and has ruled out every official Palestinian representation. [complete article]

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Pakistan's nuclear hero, world's No. 1 nuclear suspect
By Peter Grier, Faye Bowers, and Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 2004

In Pakistan Abdul Qadeer Khan has long been a respected, almost genial, figure - a cross between a CEO and a sports star.

Streets, schools, even cricket teams carry his name. He paid for a community center near his home in Islamabad, so elderly neighbors would have a place to watch TV. And it's widely noted in the local media that feeding monkeys is his favorite pastime. But Dr. A.Q. Khan didn't become famous for his quirks or charitable impulse.

He is revered in his homeland as the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, as the man whose knowledge and drive brought his country fissile equality with archrival India.

In the West, his image is darker. For years US intelligence has considered the tall, gray-haired man as a dangerous kind of A-bomb Johnny Appleseed - a man willing to share weapons secrets with anyone, for a price.

On Sunday, Khan confessed to sharing nuclear technology with Iran, Libya, and North Korea in a 12-page document presented to President Pervez Musharraf, according to a briefing given by government officials to Pakistani media in Islamabad. [complete article]

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Bush to seek intelligence failures probe
By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 1, 2004

President Bush, under mounting political pressure, will sign an executive order to establish a full-blown investigation of U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq, a senior White House official said Sunday. [...]

By setting up the investigation himself, Bush will have greater control over its membership and mandate. The senior White House official said it would be patterned after the Warren Commission, so named for its chairman Earl Warren, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, which led a 10-month investigation that concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President John F. Kennedy.

In appointing the members, Bush will draw heavily from intelligence experts who are familiar with the problems in the field, the White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The investigation will be independent and be provided with the resources it needs to do its job, the official said.

Its mandate will be broader than simply what went wrong in Iraq, the official said. It also will look into issues such as gathering intelligence on stateless regimes, such as al-Qaida, and weapons proliferation.

At this point, the White House has not decided on a deadline for the investigation -- a sensitive issue since its findings could become an issue in the presidential campaign which will be decided with the election in November. [complete article]

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Suicide bombers hit Kurdish party office in Iraq
Associated Press (via MSNBC), February 1, 2004

Two suicide bombers struck the offices of two U.S.-backed Kurdish parties in near-simultaneous attacks Sunday as hundreds of Iraqis gathered to celebrate a Muslim holiday. At least 56 people were killed and more than 235 were wounded, officials said.

One Kurdish minister said the death toll could exceed 100. The U.S. command in Baghdad put the casualty toll at 56 dead and more than 200 were injured. Kurdish officials said 57 were dead and the count could go higher.

The attack was believed to be the deadliest since an Aug. 29 car bombing in the holy city of Najaf killed Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and more than 100 others as they emerged from Friday prayers. [complete article]

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What went wrong
By John Barry and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, February 9, 2004

Saddam Hussein was holed up in his palace putting the final touches on his latest novel. His first, "Zabibah and the King," had been published in 2000 to reviews that only a dictator could get. Everyone seemed to adore the story of a righteous Iraqi king who dies, but only after restoring the honor of the beautiful Zabibah. The woman had been raped -- and here's where the tricky historical allusion comes in -- on Jan. 17, the day that American troops launched their 1991 offensive to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. The Iraqi National Theater was planning to turn the novel into a hit musical, the country's biggest-ever stage production. So the despot now had his own big act to follow. His second masterpiece, called "Al-Qala-ah Al-Hasinah," or "The Fortified Castle," also concerned a fierce battle between good and evil—"without boring details," Iraqi television had reported.

No writer likes to be disturbed. But so much was going on at the time: the United Nations was demanding greater access to Saddam's palaces, George W. Bush had declared Iraq part of an "Axis of Evil," the United States was pushing for war. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who routinely consulted Saddam about U.N. demands, found that his boss was often distracted by his latest literary effort. [complete article]

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U.S. officials knew in May Iraq possessed no WMD
By Peter Beaumont, Gaby Hinsliff and Paul Harris, The Observer, February 1, 2004

Senior American officials concluded at the beginning of last May that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, The Observer has learnt.

Intelligence sources, policy makers and weapons inspectors familiar with the details of the hunt for WMD told The Observer it was widely known that Iraq had no WMD within three weeks of Baghdad falling, despite the assertions of senior Bush administration figures and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The new revelation came as White House sources indicated that President George Bush was considering establishing an investigation into the intelligence, despite rejecting an inquiry the previous day.

The disclosure that US military survey teams sent to visit suspected sites of WMD, and intelligence interviews with Iraqi scientists and officials, had concluded so quickly that no major weapons or facilities would be found is certain to produce serious new embarrassment on both sides of the Atlantic. [complete article]

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BBC dossier reveals fury at Hutton 'flaws'
By Kamal Ahmed, The Observer, February 1, 2004

The war between the BBC and the Government was re-ignited last night after a series of leaked documents revealed growing insistence within the corporation that there are fundamental flaws in Lord Hutton's report.

A confidential briefing document taking to task key findings by the Ulster judge reveals that executives throughout the BBC believe that the inquiry report was blatantly one-sided and took little account of the corporation's evidence.

As Tony Blair prepares to 'give some ground' on the issue of weapons of mass destruction at an appearance before a parliamentary committee of inquiry on Tuesday, the fresh evidence reveals that far from letting it drop, many senior executives want to continue the battle.

A second leaked document prepared by the BBC for Hutton also reveals crucial details of why executives stood by its controversial Today report, detailing a lunch between the head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, and Kevin Marsh, the editor of the Today programme.

In a witness statement prepared by Marsh and BBC legal representatives, it is claimed that Dearlove suggested that 'hard evidence of WMD in Iraq would never be found'. [complete article]

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Wolfowitz defends war, illicit Iraqi arms or not
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, February 1, 2004

Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, said Saturday that the Bush administration was justified in toppling Saddam Hussein, regardless of whether American intelligence before the war that Iraq had stockpiled unconventional weapons was proved wrong. [complete article]

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Powell's case, a year later: Gaps in picture of Iraq arms
By Douglas Jehl and David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 1, 2004

A year ago this weekend, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell holed up in a conference room next to George J. Tenet's office at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, applying a critical eye to the satellite photos, communications intercepts and reports that would form the basis for the Bush administration's most comprehensive — and carefully worded — public case about the urgent threat Iraq posed to the world.

After several lengthy sessions, he appeared in New York on Feb. 5, with Mr. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, seated behind him, to tell the United Nations Security Council that the evidence added up to "facts" and "not assertions" that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and that it was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program and building a fleet of advanced missiles.

Mr. Powell's testimony, delivered at a moment of high suspense as American forces gathered in the Persian Gulf region, was widely seen as the most powerful and persuasive presentation of the Bush administration's case that Iraq was bristling with horrific weapons. His reputation for caution and care gave it added credibility.

A year later, some of the statements made by Mr. Powell have been confirmed, but many of his gravest findings have been upended by David A. Kay, who until Jan. 23 was Washington's chief weapons inspector. [complete article]

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The cupboard was bare
By Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2004

Chief weapons inspector David Kay, after six months of leading a postwar search by the Iraq Survey Group, resigned last week and announced his conclusion -- the same one that United Nations inspectors had reached just before the war began: Iraq had no significant weapons of mass destruction nor any effective programs to develop them in the months leading up to the invasion. Iraqi WMD programs were largely eliminated after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, under pressure from U.N. inspections.

The real message of Kay's statement is this: U.N. weapons inspections, coupled with sanctions, work. As Hans Blix, who headed the pre-war inspections told reporters in Stockholm last week: "We were not wrong. Most others were wrong. We were looking at the matter with a critical mind." [complete article]

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Debate begins in Baghdad on interim constitution
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, February 1, 2004

U.S.-appointed Iraqi leaders began debate Saturday on a proposed interim constitution that would create a three-member presidency and ensure that women accounted for at least two-fifths of a transitional legislative body and constitutional convention, Iraqi officials said.

The document would serve until October 2005, when a nationwide referendum is supposed to be held on a permanent constitution. But parties, politicians and religious figures across the country's fractured landscape have looked to the interim constitution as a harbinger of compromises that may hold sway in the final agreement. Iraqi officials say they expect potentially fierce debates over proposals on federalism, religion and quotas for women before a Feb. 28 deadline for the document's completion. [complete article]

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Call of history draws Iraqi cleric to the political fore
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, February 1, 2004

In a meeting steeped in symbolism, 68 tribal elders gathered last month on a worn Persian carpet in a crowded reception hall, sharing tea and cigarettes, and listened to a tall, ascetic cleric summon them to action in a country being transformed.

In ceremonial Arabic accented by his native Persian, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani declared that power should be in their hands, not in the hands of those from abroad, two participants recalled. With a keen sense of Iraq's history, he called the tribesmen "descendants of the 1920 revolution," the Shiite Muslim revolt against the British occupation after World War I. Elections, he insisted forcefully in the 45-minute meeting, were the only way to ensure that their voice would be heard.

"We want the authority for you," Sistani said, according to Nijm Abid Sayyah, a 50-year-old participant from the southern city of Rumaythah. "We serve you and all Iraqis, people of honorable history and great glory." [complete article]

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The Shiite surge
By David Rieff, New York Times, February 1, 2004

Not very far south of Baghdad, the Shiite heartland begins. Unlike the areas north and west of the Iraqi capital -- the so-called Sunni Triangle -- where there are frequent bombings and the heavy presence of U.S. forces, the Shiite areas of Iraq are relatively quiet. Especially in the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala, it is rare to see an armored vehicle, and rarer still to hear the rotors of an American helicopter overhead. It is often hard to remember, when you visit, that there was a war at all.

But if the war seems distant, God is everywhere. In the Shiite regions, the images of Saddam Hussein that glowered in various poses from countless walls and ceremonial arches were almost immediately replaced, after the fall of his government, by images of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and his son, Imam Hussein. These are the most revered of the first Shiite imams, martyred during the schism in early Islam that divided Muslims into Shiites and Sunnis. Imam Ali was assassinated in a mosque in Kufa, near Najaf, in 661; Imam Hussein was killed in battle near Karbala in 680 in a vain attempt to defeat the Sunni forces he viewed as having usurped his right to the caliphate. [complete article]

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Iran MPs resign over election ban
BBC News, February 1, 2004

More than 100 Iranian MPs have resigned in protest at the barring of thousands of candidates in parliamentary elections later this month.

In a speech on behalf of fellow lawmakers - carried live on state radio - Mohsen Mirdamadi spoke of an "ugly body of dictatorship" in Iran.

President Mohammad Khatami has demanded that all those banned by the hardline Guardian Council, be reinstated. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Tinker, tailor, jurist, spy
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 30, 2004
So the spooks are supposed to fall on their swords. In Washington and London, it's the spies who are taking the heat for all that wildly misleading stuff shoveled out of the White House and Downing Street stables about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But, you know, it's not just bad intelligence that got us into Iraq, it's bad judgment about the consequences of invading and occupying such a place. And for that the Bush and Blair administrations have no excuses.

Kurds press for independence
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, January 30, 2004
"We want to be like the rest of the world. There are plenty of countries much smaller than Kurdistan that have their own government, their own flag and their own freedom. We should not have any less."

Where's the apology?
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 30, 2004
George Bush promised to bring honor and integrity back to the White House. Instead, he got rid of accountability.

Building a wall, breaking a relationship
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, January 30, 2004
Israel's plan to build a security fence inside the West Bank is beginning to bulldoze its friendly relationship with neighboring Jordan, which for decades has been one of its few reliable Arab partners.

Maybe the Ottoman Empire knew better
By Yair Sheleg, Haaretz, January 29, 2004
Prof. Yehuda Kedar, a former Palmach ([Israel's] pre-state militia) fighter and geographer (a founder of the Geography Faculty at Tel Aviv and Haifa Universities), would like to see a "condominium" between Israel and the Palestinians. Condominium is a Latin word for joint rule by two or more states over the same country. Kedar is indeed suggesting that Israel and the Palestinians jointly rule the whole of Israel, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan.

Crying wolf on Iraqi WMD costs U.S. credibility on North Korea
By Jon B. Wolfsthal, Christian Science Monitor, January 29, 2004
Seeds of doubt sown in Iraq over US intelligence now have countries in East Asia, including close US allies, openly doubting US intelligence about North Korea's nuclear program. These doubts may enable North Korea to divide the US from its allies in the region and reduce the chances for a peaceful termination of North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.

The new commissars
By Anders Strindberg, The American Conservative, February 2, 2004
[The intellectual cadres of the neoconservative movement claim that] U.S. universities in general, and departments studying the Middle East in particular, constitute a monolithic cabal of America-hating left-wing extremists with whom debate is impossible. Academia must be brought to heel.

The shadow of Iraq
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, January 29, 2004
...whatever the mixture of motives, Hutton's unqualified endorsement of the [British] government's behaviour is bound, in the current climate, to be widely regarded in the country as a cover-up. It will have no credibility for millions who opposed the war on Iraq; it will merely add to the sense that the political system is unable to deal with the crisis triggered by Britain's participation in the illegal invasion and occupation.

Kurds campaign for federal state
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, January 28, 2004
The crisis over elections in Iraq is destabilising the north of the country, where thousands of Kurds were yesterday campaigning for the right to remain autonomous amid fears they would be "sold out" by the coalition authorities.

Iraqi whispers mull repeat of 1920s revolt over Western occupation
By Hannah Allam and Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, January 27, 2004
Whispers of "revolution" are growing louder in Baghdad this month at teahouses, public protests and tribal meetings as Iraqis point to the past as an omen for the future.

Power rangers
By Joshua Micah Marshall, The New Yorker, January 19, 2004
For leftist critics of America’s role in the world, it has long been a baleful article of faith that the United States is an agent of “neo-imperialism,” exerting its power through global capital and through organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. After September 11th, a left-wing accusation became a right-wing aspiration: conservatives increasingly began to espouse a world view that was unapologetically imperialist.

Too late for two states?
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, January 24, 2004
More than three years into the intifada, the Palestinian situation seems worse than ever: the weekly death toll, the poverty and now the wall. So has the uprising failed? And how can suicide bombings ever be justified? Seumas Milne had exclusive access to leaders across the political spectrum - from president Yasser Arafat in his devastated compound to the underground strategists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He found an unprecedented willingness to compromise - but a growing belief that the wall will scupper the best ever hope for peace.

Two-state solution again sells Palestinians short
By George Bisharat, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2004
It is a tragic irony that, more than 55 years ago, one desperate people seeking sanctuary from murderous racism decimated another — and continue to oppress its scattered survivors to this day. In 1948, about 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, their land and possessions taken by the new Jewish state of Israel. This included the Jerusalem home of my grandparents, Hanna and Mathilde Bisharat, which was expropriated through a process tantamount to state-sanctioned theft.

'It's just wrong what we're doing'
By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, January 24, 2004
[Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara] decided to break his silence on Iraq when I called him up the other day at his Washington office. I told him that his carefully enumerated lists of historic lessons from Vietnam were in danger of being ignored. He agreed, and told me that he was deeply frustrated to see history repeating itself.

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Bush OK's independent probe of prewar intelligence
By Dana Milbank and Dana Priest, Washington Post, January 31, 2004

President Bush has agreed to support an independent inquiry into the prewar intelligence that he used to assert that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, Republican and congressional sources said today.

The shift by the White House, which had previously maintained that any such inquiry should wait until a more exhaustive weapons search has been complete, came after pressure from lawmakers in both parties and from the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq.

There was no official confirmation from the White House today, but several sources in the government said Bush's announcement of support for an independent commission is imminent. Vice President Cheney has begun to call lawmakers on the intelligence committees, who have encouraged the administration to proceed with an inquiry. [...]

By joining the effort to create the commission rather than allowing Congress to develop its framework on its own, Bush will likely have more leverage to keep the focus on the CIA and other intelligence organizations rather than on the White House. Democrats have asserted that Bush exaggerated the intelligence on Iraq to justify going war, a theory that was boosted by recent allegations from former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill that Bush had been contemplating the ouster of Hussein long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. [complete article]

Comment -- One can only assume that the calculation now being made by the White House is that an independent inquiry will serve to stifle political debate on this issue as George Bush's refrain will run: "I asked for an inquiry to be set up to investigate these questions and we're going to have to wait to hear its findings. Before that time, no one should be rushing to judgment." Discussion closed. Moreover, if as the WP suggests, the White House manages to seal itself outside the scope of the inquiry, it will then most likely continue to sit comfortably in its current posture as the innocent victim of a failed intelligence process.

None of this justifies forestalling a vital debate in which Democrats should now be forcefully engaged. Namely, to challenge the National Security Strategy that is the centerpiece of George Bush's foreign policy. The use of force to preempt emerging threats depends on the existence of intelligence capabilities that can "provide timely, accurate information on threats, wherever they may emerge." Both the 9-11 attacks and the war in Iraq have clearly demonstrated that the United States lacks such intelligence capabilities. Bush has already made it clear that he's going to run as a "national security" candidate. Democrats must pound on this theme again and again: Bush's National Security Strategy is a sham.

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